Feature

A Very Dark Place

In the panic after 9/11, Canada enacted anti-terrorism legislation that curtailed civil liberties in favour of national security. Faced with American pressure, is the Harper government poised to go even further?

by
Photography by Jaret Belliveau

• 5,382 words

Photography by Jaret Belliveau

As the gates of Syria’s austere Far Falestin detention centre closed behind him, Abdullah Almalki remained calm. He was a Canadian citizen, in Damascus simply to visit his mother. Upon meeting with prison officials, he would be immediately released, he thought. At first, the questions were routine: Why had he come to Syria? What line of work was he in? Then suddenly and without warning, one of the inquisitors pulled a rubber blindfold tight across Almalki’s eyes. He was led to another room, seated in a chair, and presented with the names of three Arab men. Did he know them? When Almalki said he didn’t, the room went silent and he was viciously slapped across the face. The sound reverberated throughout the chamber, and at that moment, he later recalled, “they sacked my dignity, they crushed my personality.…[I was] transferred to another world.”

Beginning on May 4, 2002, and for the next 482 days, Abdullah Almalki’s world became a damp, cockroach-infested cell not much bigger than a grave. Cats urinated through a small opening in the ceiling and rats often squeezed under the door, but even still he hoped it wouldn’t swing open—an open door only meant more torture and interrogation, sometimes for eighteen hours straight. Stripped to his underwear, Almalki was repeatedly whipped with a thick cable (a guard once derisively told him that he had endured a thousand lashes during one seven-hour session). The worst torture occurred when his knees were forced to his chest and a large tire was placed around his bent body. He was then rolled onto his back, which allowed the guards to freely beat his head, body, genitals, and the soles of his feet.

Before his arrest, Almalki, then thirty-one, sold communications equipment across the Middle East and Pakistan. As such, the interrogations often centred on his work and on Osama bin Laden. Did he know the al Qaeda leader? Had he ever trained with the terrorist organization or sold equipment to it? But when he was back in his dark cell, Almalki became consumed by other questions. George Salloum, the prison’s chief interrogator, had told him that agents from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (rcmp) and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (csis) wanted information about a number of Canadian Muslim men—inconsequential people, it seemed to Almalki, whom the Syrians could not have known about or been remotely interested in. Almalki was also troubled by the fact that Salloum had information that could only have come from his personal business records, material that had been seized by the rcmp during a raid on his Ottawa home in January 2002. His interrogators were cryptic about this apparent collaboration, but several months into his incarceration, Almalki claims they produced a list of questions they said had been supplied by the rcmp and csis. “‘Canada sent these questions,’” he recalls an interrogator telling him. “‘We have to get answers on them so that we can send them back.’”

By that time, physically and emotionally shattered, Almalki had already cracked. “I told them, ‘Whatever you want, I’ll tell you what I know,’” he says. “‘If you want something else, I will sign a piece of paper, blank, and you fill it up with whatever you want.’ I got to the point where I felt I could not take one more lash.” Almalki maintains that on March 10, 2004, his interrogators finally told him that their findings had been sent to Ottawa and that he had been cleared of all allegations. He was set free that day. The question remained however: did csis, the rcmp, and top officials at Foreign Affairs conspire to have Almalki tortured in Syria, in a bid to unmask an al Qaeda sleeper cell operating in Canada?

This allegation is contained in a lawsuit that Almalki launched in March 2006. The case has obvious parallels with the more-publicized inquiry into the role of Canadian officials in the arrest of Maher Arar, the Ottawa computer engineer who was detained at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York in 2002 and, based on information allegedly supplied by the rcmp, flown in shackles to Syria, where he too was tortured at the Far Falestin detention centre. Partly at issue in both matters is whether Canadian officials will be obliged to disclose vital information about how and why Almalki and Arar ended up being tortured in Syria, and to what purpose the information derived from these interrogations was put. The cases may shed light on the depth of Canada’s involvement in what US Vice President Dick Cheney calls the “dark places” democracies must go to win the war against global terrorism.

The Canadian government, however, may be under no obligation to disclose just how dark its methods have become. Canada’s omnibus anti-terrorism package, Bill C-36, the Anti-Terrorism Act, which passed three months after the September 11, 2001, attacks on Washington, DC, and New York, restricts the legal rights of anyone suspected of terrorist involvement. Arar, Almalki, and others may yet be awarded compensation, but given what they went through, these victories might be pyrrhic.

In the aftermath of 9/11, when some in the US media suggested that the Canadian border was a sieve and that some of the terrorists had used Canada as a gateway to the US, Ottawa denied the specific charges, but agreed that the world had changed and that Canada must clamp down. And so our already overstretched military did its part in Afghanistan, and on the home front Bill C-36 was enacted after minimal parliamentary debate.

The 186-page bill rolled back civil liberties related to due process and privacy rights for terrorism suspects. But because its definition of terrorism is so broad—according to Kent Roach, a law professor at the University of Toronto and the author of September 11: Consequences for Canada, it amounts to a threat to life, property, or personal security made, as the legislation puts it, “for a political, religious, or ideological purpose, objective or cause”—many critics believe it is open to abuse. For example, Bill C-36 allows federal ministers to declare a group or organization to be a terrorist front, as recently happened to Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers. It also allows the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, together with the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, to issue national security certificates resulting in the confinement of non-citizens suspected of terrorism (sometimes, as it has turned out, for indefinite periods).

At the time Bill C-36 was passed, civil-liberties lawyers insisted that such measures allowed the state to operate on the assumption of guilt, and that freedom of association and the right to hold and express views at odds with normative discourse and conventional culture were under siege. Bill C-36, they said, was little different than the usa Patriot Act. However, like the Patriot Act, Bill C-36 had an out clause: it implicitly recognized that such infringements on civil liberties are untenable in a free and democratic society by mandating a review of the bill three years after it took effect. Four and half years later, that review is still incomplete, and there are indications that when the assessment of Bill C-36 is finally complete, it will recommend enhancing state powers and further broadening the definition of terrorism.

Roach believes that Bill C-36 was inspired by genuine fears. “If a terrorist attack had originated in Canada the ramifications would have been profound,” he says. The Canadian government was deeply worried about losing control of the border and other matters pertaining to sovereignty. Of specific concern was the possibility that if the rcmp and csis didn’t do something to weed out terrorists based in Canada, the Central Intelligence Agency (cia) would take matters into its own hands. To help ensure “intelligence sovereignty,” the government agreed to spend almost $8 billion on security, including extra monies for policing, the military, and immigration, airport, and border control. csis and the rcmp saw their budgets increased, allowing both to step up domestic surveillance. While protecting Canadian sovereignty was the primary objective, there was considerable international brokering. Ties between csis, the rcmp, and the cia were strengthened, and Ottawa entered into information-sharing agreements with the intelligence services of more than one hundred countries, including, analysts say, those operating in rogue states such as Syria, where the use of torture to extract information is routine.

Given the “you’re either with us or against us” rhetoric of the time, fears about losing sovereignty were hardly irrational. With Canada equipped to play only a relatively minor military role in Afghanistan, Jean Chrétien’s Liberal government felt it necessary to provide assurances of increased domestic security, and to express a willingness to participate in international eavesdropping.

Bill C-36 was debated and passed as the US military campaign in Afghanistan was in full flight—a heady and distracting time that saw no real public outcry. But the fact that there has been no sustained demand to repeal the Anti-Terrorism Act or, at the very least, to insist that the review be concluded, reminds Wesley Wark, professor of international affairs at the University of Toronto, of the Cold War, another conflict in which the public quietly accepted that the secret service and police had to engage in unsavoury practices. Alluding to Stanley Kubrick’s film Dr. Strangelove, the dark satire about learning to “love” the bomb, Wark argues that “the bomb is back among us” in the form of Bill C-36 and that the general public has accepted a surveillance society and a constellation of strategies to wage a covert war on international terror without knowing much about what these entail.

Roach points out that the latest chapters in the evolving war-against-terrorism narrative—including the fbi’s mistaken view that some of the 9/11 terrorists had visited Canada; last summer’s bombings in London, England; and the ongoing provocations and calls to arms by Osama bin Laden—could result in the strengthening of the Anti-Terrorism Act when the review is finally complete. “There is a dynamic at work,” he says. “With each act of terrorism, there are calls for more anti-terrorism law. I think we’ll see calls to ramp it up even more coming out of the review.”

There is considerably more to this dynamic than recent terrorist incidents. Two reports released in the spring— one by the US State Department, the other by the Bi-National Planning Group (bpg), an influential fifty-member panel sanctioned by both governments that seeks closer ties between the US and Canadian militaries and intelligence services—suggest that despite the efforts it has already made, Canada is under increased pressure to co-operate on all matters related to continental security. Released in April and titled Country Reports on Terrorism 2005, the State Department’s long analysis claims that Canadian immigration policies are soft and that terrorists “enjoy safe haven, raise funds, arrange logistical support, and plan terrorist attacks” in Canada. The report names names, specifically targeting, among others, “the Khadr terrorist family” and Maher Arar; dredges up old chestnuts such as Canada’s failure to participate militarily in Iraq; and issues a specific warning: “The principal threat to the close US-Canadian co-operative relationship remains the fallout from the Arar case…that prompted the Canadian Government to review and restrict information-sharing arrangements with the United States.”

The report reflects the prevailing view in the US administration: that Canada’s anti-terrorism laws lack teeth, and that under the previous Liberal government, the sharing of vital intelligence about terrorist suspects suffered. Seemingly anticipating the US State Department criticism and in preparation for the May 2006 renewal of the North American Aerospace Defence Command (norad) agreement, on March 13 the bpg—established in 2002 with a two-year mandate that was extended to May 2006—issued its Final Report on Canada and the United States (canus) Enhanced Military Cooperation. The bpg recommends, at a minimum, turning norad into an “all-domain warning” system with a focus on air, land, sea, and cyberspace surveillance. At a maximum, according to Michael Byers, Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law at the University of British Columbia, the bpg advocates continental integration of defence and security. As Byers wrote in the Toronto Star on April 28, the bpg report “reveals that expanding norad to include maritime surveillance sharing is intended to create momentum toward complete military, security and foreign policy integration.”

With the Canadian intelligence services already operating with increased resources, it is hard to imagine what this brave new world will amount to. csis, the Communications Security Establishment (cse), the rcmp’s Criminal Intelligence Directorate, and J2, the military’s intelligence division, have had their budgets increased, while a new agency, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada (psepc), was created in large part to coordinate the government’s response to and prevention of terrorist attacks. On top of all this, the mandate of the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre has been expanded to include terrorist financing.

The scope of activity is intense at the cse, which analyzes information that the military has gathered at bases outside Ottawa (near Leitrim), in Newfoundland, on Ellesmere Island, and on Vancouver Island. The Canadian military gathers information using satellite-based eavesdropping technology to monitor and intercept phone and computer communications, including emails. cse linguists, political scientists, and other experts then sift through the millions of conversations and computer messages looking for evidence of an emerging terror plot.

The pressure to prevent another terrorist attack in North America is taking its toll on the intelligence-gathering community. “In 9/11 we had a case history of failed intelligence,” says former senior csis official David Harris. “So we have people going back to files with the possibility that something might have sneaked through. But that kind of thing significantly increases workload and destabilizes the organization.”

A premium has been placed on ensuring that the mistakes of the past are not repeated, that people like Ahmed Ressam—the so-called “millennium bomber,” who planned to blow up the Los Angeles International Airport before he was caught crossing the Washington State border in 1999—are detected earlier. The rcmp and csis are trying to increase their intelligence contacts among Arab and Muslim Canadians (Ressam had moved freely within Montreal’s Muslim community). The difficulty, says Harris, is that it can take years to get an intelligence officer up to speed, while the problem is growing by the day. “We have 2,700 csis people, but every year we bring in 230,000 human beings through immigration. You can’t just slip into these communities the way you might have into a local Communist party during the Cold War. And that is troubling.”

Just outside cse headquarters in Ottawa is an antenna dish that some security observers believe links the cse directly to National Security Agency (nsa) headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland. And there are suspicions that the cse has been illegally spying on Americans on behalf of the cia. Anxieties about questionable linkages do not end there. James Risen, author of State of War: The Secret History of the cia and the Bush Administration, says that basic international protocols would require the Canadian government to authorize, for instance, cia ghost flights carrying prisoners through Canadian airspace to “black sites” or secret foreign prisons where they are to be tortured, to say nothing of cia flights actually landing on Canadian soil en route.

Former cia assistant general counsel A. John Radsan, who was with the Agency from 2002 to 2004, sees other examples of Canada’s support for Washington’s interests. He points to the (very quiet) Canadian position on Guantánamo Bay, where hundreds of “enemy combatants” from Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere are being held under a form of military justice rejected by nearly every other Western country and by the statutes of international law. Wesley Wark, for his part, is troubled by the lack of substantive debate on Canada’s escalating role in Afghanistan. Says Wark: “We really haven’t come to grips with the changing national security environment. And the lack of debate on Afghanistan is symbolic of that. I think the government believes that it would be worse to have a debate than to not have one, because Ottawa is anxious to avoid deepening the public’s perception that the international war on terror is an American endeavour that has little connection to Canada.”

Indeed, could official Canadian reticence on Guantánamo Bay be related to the possibility that Taliban fighters captured by our troops in Afghanistan could end up there? And has political pressure to co-operate with the cia compelled csis and the rcmp to hand over information about Canadians to American authorities, as is alleged in the cases of Maher Arar and Abdullah Almalki?

Ottawa and Washington have been co-operating closely on intelligence since the end of World War II, when Britain and the US entered into an alliance to share information captured by electronic eavesdropping. Then in the 1950s, with the Communist threat growing, bases containing sophisticated intercept capabilities were set up in Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. This expanded alliance became known as the “Five Eyes.” Martin Rudner, director of the Canadian Centre of Intelligence and Security Studies at Carleton University, points out that even before 9/11 drew the group’s members closer together, it had developed a “uniquely intimate international intelligence partnership”—one so effective it could often read the enemy’s coded messages as quickly as the intended recipients.

By the late 1980s, bases in the five countries had been linked into a secretive web, known as Echelon, run by powerful dictionary computers that can sort through vast flows of electronic data, including emails, to target almost anyone in the world. The Echelon system is now largely focused on Islamic terrorism, and according to Rudner was likely used in the arrest of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. In early 2003, Rudner says, the nsa asked the Five Eyes to intercept communications between diplomats on the United Nations Security Council during the debate over whether to invade Iraq. Canada, which opposed Washington’s plan to remove Saddam Hussein, refused to go along, but Rudner argues this marked “one of the rare singularities” in which Canada stood apart from its intelligence allies.

The US has demonstrated that to protect itself from attacks, it will reach beyond its borders, even into countries considered allies. Believing that Norway was incapable of dealing with Islamic terrorists, the White House sent cia agents into that country. Several alleged terrorists were handed over without trial by Swedish officials in December 2001, and one suspect was picked up on the streets of Milan in February 2003. Faced with this kind of pressure, Ottawa agreed to join the Bi-National Planning Group in December 2002.

“There has been a shift of resources radically in the direction of the Islamic world and a continued attempt to exploit liaison relationships with Canada,” says Richard Betts, a member of the US National Commission on Terrorism and the director of the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia University. Liaisons with other countries have become the norm for the US. According to Rudner, since 9/11, more than one hundred countries have signed information-sharing agreements with Washington. In 2002, the European Union granted American authorities access to personal data on terrorist suspects and set up joint teams to investigate and interrogate prisoners. And in 2003, the US and Britain formed a working group on international terrorism to track chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons development.

Against this backdrop, few are predicting that the wide definition of terrorism in Bill C-36 will be rescinded. At present, terrorist suspects can be detained for seventy-two hours and compelled to provide evidence that might be self-incriminating, and a judge can require the signing of a peace or recognizance bond lasting a year. Most vulnerable to the arbitrary application of the law, critics maintain, are members of Canada’s visible-minority communities. And given that laws are generalized precepts—affecting one community today but, if they stay on the books, another tomorrow—the results of the Bill C-36 review will tell Canadians much about what kind of society they are destined to live in.

In some arenas, change is already apparent. In order to advance peace negotiations in Sri Lanka, Paul Martin’s government tried to maintain relations with the Tamil Tigers. But in April, Stephen Harper’s Cabinet—perhaps reacting to reports that the Tigers were blackmailing Canadian Tamils into giving them financial support—classified the Tigers as a terrorist group. Strictly speaking, anyone who gave money to the Tigers or attended one of their meetings could be subject to csis surveillance or criminal charges and could, if he or she is not a Canadian citizen, be deported. Both Almalki and Arar were accused of being associated with fundamentalist Muslim groups. And the question remains: is their legal status much different from the “enemy combatants” incarcerated at Guantánamo Bay? Whether csis and the rcmp agree with the basic US position that suspected terrorists fall outside the norm of international law is open to question. Certainly, there is no formal agreement in place to keep prisoners captured by Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan from being shipped to Guantánamo. Canada has agreed to turn its prisoners over to the Afghan government; the Netherlands, by contrast, did not send troops until it had received assurances that its captives would not be sent on to Cuba.

Like Almalki, Maher Arar had been abroad vacationing with family. He was returning home from Tunisia when he was detained in New York. According to University of British Columbia president Stephen Toope, who interviewed him for the Arar inquiry, Arar was held for eleven days (beginning on September 27, 2002) at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan. On the last night, he was awakened at 3 a.m. and told that he was being transported to Syria. “He told me,” says Toope, “that he began to cry and immediately said that he would be tortured. He felt ‘destroyed.’”

Arar was taken to New Jersey, put on a Gulfstream V jet registered to a series of dummy companies, and flown—via Washington, DC; Portland, Maine; and Rome—to Amman, Jordan. The next day, he was blindfolded and driven to Syria, where he was dumped, exhausted and hungry, at the gates of the Far Falestin detention centre. “He ventured to me,” says Toope, “that he was so frightened at that moment that if he could have figured out some way to kill himself, he would have done it.” That night, Arar was questioned by George Salloum, then led to the tiny cell where he would spend the next year as anonymous “prisoner number two.”

On the matter of information sharing across borders and US-Canada co-operation, with massive volumes of communications being downloaded from satellites, James Bamford, an expert on the nsa and the author of A Pretext to War, an examination of intelligence gathering in the post-9/11 era, says the cse may have been spying on Americans on behalf of the nsa. “One of the suggestions was having Canada do it,” says Bamford. “With all the co-operation after 9/11 we could have US intelligence working in Canada and your people down here doing work.” Agents are posted to the US embassy in Ottawa, but it’s impossible to determine how closely csis is working with the cia or whether the Agency has expanded its operations in Canada. The Canadian Press recently reported that declassified memos suggest that as many as twenty planes with cia ties have made seventy-four flights to Canada since September 11, 2001, and that in the last year eight different planes reputedly owned by cia shell corporations have landed at Canadian airports in Newfoundland, Nunavut, Ontario, and Quebec.

Although spokespeople for psepc in Ottawa say there is no evidence suggesting that cia flights broke Canadian aviation law, Risen believes senior government officials would almost certainly have approved the flights. “It stretches credulity to think the cia is doing this without local government approval,” he says. Wark adds that the fact that Arar was taken to Syria suggests that the rules governing the sharing of intelligence between the two countries are being bent, if not broken. “Something is going on,” he says, “that we don’t yet fully understand.”

In an attempt to shed light on expanded cia operations, the European Union and Britain’s Law Lords (the equivalent of Canada’s Supreme Court) have been investigating different aspects of the Agency’s covert activities. An ongoing EU inquiry found that one thousand undeclared cia flights have entered European airspace since 2001, some of which landed on the continent to pick up terrorist suspects who had been captured in Europe, then transported them to countries that use torture to extract information.

In December, the Law Lords ruled unanimously that evidence obtained by torture cannot be used in court proceedings. (This ruling overturned a Court of Appeal decision concluding that so long as there was no complicity on the part of British agents, evidence gained through torture was admissible.) There is no such prohibition in Canada, and the Supreme Court has never been asked to rule here on the admissibility of evidence extracted from tortured prisoners such as Almalki and Arar.

The only Canadian court findings on this issue have been peripheral, notably in the case of Mohamed Harkat. Harkat was arrested in December 2002 on a security certificate issued under the Immigration and Refugee Act and has been detained ever since. csis believes that he was an associate of Abu Zubaida, one of bin Laden’s top lieutenants, who was captured in Pakistan. According to government lawyers, Zubaida “co-operated” with US authorities and gave them evidence against Harkat. On the matter of whether to uphold the certificate, federal-court justice Eleanor Dawson did not rule on the question of torture, but concluded that the evidence “does raise significant concern about the methods used to interrogate Abu Zubaida.” Still, she ruled that there was enough evidence from other sources to allow the government to continue holding Harkat.

There are no provisions for appeal to the Supreme Court for suspects such as Harkat, who have been charged under the Immigration and Refugee Act and held on security certificates. And until Canadian courts formally ban evidence derived from torture in cases involving national security, critics say the intelligence community will remain free to follow US practices, which reflect the belief that if an interrogation (brutal or otherwise) can save lives, it is justified. Perhaps this is why csis refuses to comment on the torture experienced by Almalki and Arar. It also won’t admit that it has information-sharing agreements with regimes that use torture. The following exchange at the Arar inquiry, between former csis director Ward Elcock and Arar’s lawyer, Lorne Waldman, is telling:

Waldman: Do we have information-sharing agreements with any of the countries [that engage in torture]?

Elcock: The problem is that I don’t know what countries necessarily engage in torture. There are certainly allegations that certain countries do, but I have no independent knowledge in most cases that any country has engaged in torture.

Waldman: Is your position then that “I am going to close my eyes to torture until I see the person putting the electric cattle prods on the individual? ”

Elcock: I didn’t say that was my position at all…I can suspect that Syria may engage in torture. I have no confirmation of that one way or the other.

Four terrorism suspects, including Harkat, who were imprisoned on national security certificates have recently been moved to a specially built facility at the Millhaven Institution, near Kingston, Ontario. This June, Harkat’s lawyer, Paul Copeland, will argue before the Supreme Court that his client has been denied fundamental justice under Section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees the right to “life, liberty and security of the person.” Denied access to vital information, Copeland says, “The argument we’re making is that since your lawyer can’t be involved or know anything about the case, it doesn’t meet the idea of fundamental justice.” Copeland is hoping, however, that ultimately the court will rule that Section 1 of the Charter, which can limit the rights of individuals charged in national-security matters and deny them “fundamental justice,” does not apply in the Harkat case. If so, the court could strike down the law and order a review.

Copeland’s appeal to the principles of a free and open society faces stark challenges. Canadian officials are closely watching changes in British law on intelligence and security matters. Early in 2005, Britain adopted “control orders,” which can be used to place people under house arrest or force them to wear an electronic tracking device for a year if there is a reasonable suspicion that they pose a terrorist threat. A judge can now compel a person to turn over the names of associates to security services, and, based partly on last summer’s subway bombings, intelligence agencies are working overtime to ferret out suspects. Furthermore, Britain has adopted laws enabling the state to prosecute anyone who makes a speech that defends or promotes terrorism. But the fact remains that these issues are more political than judicial, more guided by a legislative agenda that, in Britain, Canada, the US, and elsewhere, appears to be reflecting the views of the people.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen after the review [of Bill C-36],” says Kent Roach. But he senses an opportunity for the government to expand the bill in the public furor over the acquittal of the two men charged in the Air India bombing. In that case, the court concluded that reasonable doubt had been established—a decision that outraged the victims’ families and Canadians in general. Over twenty years later, the Air India bombing—the worst terrorist incident in Canadian history—remains an open wound, and Prime Minister Harper has established an inquiry into the case and its ramifications.

Led by retired Supreme Court Justice John Major, the inquiry has a broad mandate to investigate both the criminal-justice system and current legislation related to the treatment of terrorist suspects. Among the issues under consideration are whether changes to the Criminal Code are necessary in order to improve information-sharing capabilities among intelligence services, and the implementation of a trial system in which a panel of three judges would adjudicate cases involving terrorist suspects. While this panel would involve civilian judges, for some critics the idea immediately conjured up the military tribunals established in the United States. (The US Supreme Court is expected to rule on the legitimacy of such tribunals by July.)

Legal experts fear that under a panel system, the burden of proof would be lowered and the likelihood of abuse increased. “To the extent that we give up some fair-trial rights in this quest for security,” says Roach, “we run the real danger of detaining innocent people.” The Air India inquiry will no doubt raise many thorny issues and may increase the likelihood that the public will accept a broadening of the anti-terrorism measures contained in Bill C-36 when the review is finally complete.

A charitable interpretation holds that the review could not be completed until after the Bi-National Planning Group had tabled its analysis on continental security and the threat of international terrorism. If this is the case, and if Parliament agrees with the bpg’s recommendations and its views on increased co-operation with the US, Canadians are unlikely to see a rollback of anti-terrorism legislation. It is the very real danger is that innocent people will be swept up in a climate of fear that has propelled a prominent group of Canadians, including former solicitor general Warren Allmand and former ndp leader Ed Broadbent, to demand that Prime Minister Harper investigate what happened to Abdullah Almalki and two other Muslim Canadians who were tortured in Syria. Only then might the questions Almalki pondered in the darkness of his cell be answered.

Curious about how Canada has used security certificates in the war against global terrorism? Secret Trial 5 examines the human impact of Canada’s “war on terror,” and is playing at Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Film Festival in Toronto from April 24–May 4, 2014.